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Russia's 'family values' experiment

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
        http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-herlihy-russia-anti-gay-20130619,0,3118119.story Russia s family values experiment   Laws
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 19, 2013
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        http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-herlihy-russia-anti-gay-20130619,0,3118119.story

      Russia's 'family values' experiment
       
      Laws restricting abortion, divorce and gay rights mask Russia's real problems.
       
      By Patricia
      Herlihy
      June 19,
      2013
      The Kremlin has just issued a 12-year plan to address Russia's demographic
      crisis — that is, its high mortality rate and low birthrate. Buoyed apparently
      by a recent rise in the birthrate — 1.9 million Russian children were born in
      2012, compared with 1.2 million in 1992 — the country has announced that it will
      give bonuses to families that have more than two children and will provide
      better healthcare, housing and education for families.
       
      In addition to these "carrots," the government has announced some "sticks":
      Divorce will be taxed as an "act of hatred toward children," and a fixed sum of
      alimony will be demanded even of those who are poor or unemployed. Abortion is
      now strongly discouraged and increasingly limited by law.
       
      The state also is ramping up an anti-homosexuality campaign, with plans to
      commission artwork promoting "traditional moral and spiritual family values,"
      declared Sergei Ivanov, the Kremlin's chief of staff. And last week, the Duma
      passed a bill banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" by a vote
      of 436 to 0.
       
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      The city of Moscow, meanwhile, despite being told by the European Human
      Rights Court that its failure to allow gay rights demonstrations was illegal,
      has banned demonstrations by gays for the next 100 years. The ban is
      enthusiastically enforced: On May 25, two women were arrested in Moscow for
      unfurling a rainbow flag, and 30 more protesters were taken in for demonstrating
      at the Duma. On the same day, 15 gay demonstrators were arrested in Gorky
      Park.
       
      From the time of Stalin through the collapse of the Soviet Union,
      homosexuality was illegal in Russia, and many Russians still view it is a
      disorder. As Vitaly Milonov, the primary backer of the anti-gay legislation in
      St. Petersburg, announced, "Homosexuality is best cured by fasting and prayer."
      A Ukrainian member of parliament expressed a prevalent attitude in Russia when
      he said: "The spread of homosexuality is a threat to national security because
      it propagates the HIV/AIDS epidemic, destroys the family and could lead to a
      demographic crisis."
       
      The implication in Russia's recent actions is that homosexuality, divorce and
      abortion are central factors in Russia's weak birthrate and high rate of early
      death. Choosing these targets plays to popular sentiment and reinforces the
      dogma of an increasingly vocal Russian Orthodox Church.
       
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      But will the new measures address the problem? Hardly. The real issues lie
      elsewhere.
      One unaddressed problem central to Russia's demographic imbalance is the high
      rate of early death related to heavy alcohol consumption by Russian males.
      Another is the country's HIV/AIDS crisis. Russia has more than 2 million men who
      are HIV positive, and AIDS is the third leading cause of premature death in the
      country. (In the United States, by comparison, it is the 23rd leading cause.)
      Most Russians with HIV (about 80%) are intravenous drug users. The stigma
      attached to drug use and homosexuality is so great that people are afraid to get
      medical care until they have advanced stages of AIDS and/or drug addiction.
      By offering subsidies for more babies and penalizing divorce, Russia might be
      able to increase its birthrate, but a more fruitful approach would be to try to
      save men from premature death caused by excessive drinking and drug use. Rather
      than banning gay propaganda, why not look for ways to combat the widespread
      image that it's masculine to drink heavily? Sobriety could result in more men
      being well enough and living long enough to marry and procreate.
       
      And if, to put forth another long-shot idea, same-sex couples were allowed to
      wed, some of those Russian orphans that Americans are forbidden to adopt, who
      lie languishing in orphanages, might find loving, nurturing families.
      Patricia Herlihy is a professor of history emerita at Brown University
      and an adjunct professor at the Watson Institute for International Studies. Her
      most recent book is "Vodka: A Global History."
      Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

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